Eat Dirt

soil tasting

Artist Laura Parker of SF inhaling soil at her interactive art installation “Taste of Place”

That’s right…  Eat dirt.  No, you’re not in some John Wayne western all of a sudden…where we are facing each other, standing off with a hand on our gun and snarling…  No, it’s not a threat.  It’s a health tip.

I’m talking about the good stuff — soil.

In the year 2000, right before I left for Ukraine for a stint with Peace Corps, I wrote a poem called Grow Wild.  My first lines were,  “grow wild, eat dirt.”  At that time in my life, I don’t think I fully knew what I channeled through my psyche.  I just knew that I was tired of the disconnection from good, clean dirt.  The sterile environment of the university halls, the bathrooms and dorms had driven me too far from some kind of goodness; and yet, I didn’t know exactly what was missing.

Luckily, Ukraine taught me what a more functional life might look like.  Yes, they had just suffered an economic collapse.  However, they were still full of life and healthy!  The farmer’s markets were bustling with babushkas selling anything fresh from the farm, mashrutkas (community buses) bustled here and there, people danced after meals, and most people still had a root cellar (even those in apartment buildings!).

I began to see what life would be like without car culture and supermarkets and shopping malls and marketing.  Life would be — well — simpler in some ways and more complex (read:  richer) in other ways.

The reason I am thinking about all of this is due to the dawning of information from the Human Food Project about the need to cultivate the microbes in our system.  We are, after all, gut gardeners more than anything.  We are more bacteria than we are animal.  However, our guts have become more of a mowed lawn or a clear-cut forest these days…rather than a healthy, forest ecosystem of bacteria.  And, truly, this kind of diverse microbial ecosystem what we need for resiliency against infectious and degenerative diseases.

Because of the hyper-cleaning of our modern environment coupled with the design of our environment, we are subjected to an over-sterilized reality.  We are not casually exposed to beneficial bacteria as we used to be in more natural environments.  And, considering that when bacteria are ‘wiped out’ with a cleaning agent or chemical, pathogenic bacteria proliferate faster than beneficial bacteria.  This leaves us with more exposure to pathogens and less exposure to the good stuff.  Check out this great article on how little pathogenic bacteria there are in indigenous housing compared to modern buildings.

Luckily, things like the Farmer’s Markets are changing that for us.  In this article, the author points out the great favor these markets are doing for us.  They are exposing us to good soil bacteria, which we are greatly missing in our lives.  We NEED this good soil bacteria for the health of our guts.  Even this doctor, addressing a large audience on the topic of traditional diets at UCSF, encourages people to ‘get their intestines as close to the dirt as possible.’

And, why do we need healthy guts?  Well, this means we will have good digestion, we will rid ourselves of toxins in an efficient way, those bacteria will actually produce vitamins for us when we are in short supply, and our minds will also be healthy (think serotonin).

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride also points out in this article, the importance of healthy gut flora for the proper functioning of the mind.  She also specifically points out that the best probiotics on the market are the ones that also include soil bacteria in them.

Over the years, I have taught workshops on gardening the gut.  One thing that always lands deeply in people is…indeed…nibbling on some dirt.  I tell them to go out to a healthy, intact forest.  I tell them to find their favorite spot there,  a place that resonates with them and feels completely in balance.  Then, I tell them to brush aside the leaves…dig their hands in the soil…and take a pinch of dirt.  The next step is to put that in your mouth, swish it around, and swallow it down.

This is a practice I do myself.  You can view this as simply as inoculating your system with healthy soil bacteria.  Or, you can take it a step further and consider that you are becoming this healthy forest…the diverse forest is fully invited into your system.  This profound connection and sharing of microbes is a conscious act of becoming whole.

So, streaming that inner wise one in me that expressed itself 12 years ago, ‘grow wild, eat dirt.’

3 thoughts on “Eat Dirt

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